Is there any difference between euthanasia and palliated starvation?

BioEdge

Xavier Symons

While euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently illegal in most countries, the practice of voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED) is seen by some as an ethically and legally permissible alternative. VSED refers to seriously-ill patients refusing to eat and drink for a sustained period of time with the intention of bringing about their own death.

Yet a new paper published in BMC Medicine argues that VSED is ethically indistinguishable from assisted suicide, and should be subject to the same legal regulations as more salient cases of assistance in dying.

The paper, lead-authored by Ralf J. Jox of the Institute for Ethics, History and Theory of Medicine at the University of Munich, argues that “supporting patients who embark on VSED amounts to assistance in suicide, at least in some instances, depending on the kind of support and its relation to the patient’s intention”.

While VSED does not involve an invasive or aggressive act like many other means of suicide, the authors write that “VSED should [nevertheless] be considered as a form of suicide, as there is both an intention to bring about death and an omission that directly causes this effect”. Doctors who assist patients in VSED — by encouraging them, or promising pain-relief if VSED is undertaken — are potentially instrumental in the deaths of the patients, as the suicide would not occur without them, and they share the patient’s intention of inducing death.

The authors of the paper conclude that the same legal prescriptions or regulations that apply to physician assisted suicide should also apply to VSED.

“[We] maintain… that future ethical discussions on assisted suicide require consideration of medically supported VSED, and vice versa…Thus, the widely held position by palliative care societies, professional bodies of physicians, legal scholars, and ethicists to disapprove of assisted suicide but approve of and even promote medically supported VSED appears inconsistent”.


This article is published by Xavier Symons and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to BioEdge. Commercial media must contact BioEdge for permission and fees.

 

Accessed 2017-08-11

 

The status of the human embryo in various religions

William Neaves

Abstract

Research into human development involves the use of human embryos and their derivative cells and tissues. How religions view the human embryo depends on beliefs about ensoulment and the inception of personhood, and science can neither prove nor refute the teaching of those religions that consider the zygote to be a human person with an immortal soul. This Spotlight article discusses some of the dominant themes that have emerged with regard to how different religions view the human embryo, with a focus on the Christian faith as well as Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Islamic perspectives.


Neaves W. The status of the human embryo in various religions. Development 2017 144: 2541-2543; doi: 10.1242/dev.151886

Dignitarian medical ethics

Linda Barclay

Abstract

Philosophers and bioethicists are typically sceptical about invocations of dignity in ethical debates. Many believe that dignity is essentially devoid of meaning: either a mere rhetorical gesture used in the absence of good argument or a faddish term for existing values like autonomy and respect. On the other hand, the patient experience of dignity is a substantial area of research in healthcare fields like nursing and palliative care. In this paper, it is argued that philosophers have much to learn from the concrete patient experiences described in healthcare literature. Dignity is conferred on people when they are treated as having equal status, something the sick and frail are often denied in healthcare settings. The importance of equal status as a unique value has been forcefully argued and widely recognised in political philosophy in the last 15 years. This paper brings medical ethics up to date with philosophical discussion about the value of equal status by developing an equal status conception of dignity.


Barclay L. Dignitarian medical ethics. Journal of Medical Ethics Published Online First: 13 October 2017. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2017-104467

Navigating the new era of assisted suicide and execution drugs

Sean Riley

I. Introduction

Lethal medication provisions are in a precarious state. Over the past decade, pharmaceutical companies have attempted to stamp out the use of their drugs in executions, creating several economic and regulatory hurdles for access to these medications. As a result, patients seeking physician-assisted suicide (PAS) as well as death penalty states aiming to execute their capital offenders have been forced to turn to unregulated and dangerous alternatives for these drugs. This note attempts to unpack the quality, safety, and access issues emerging from these recent changes and to explore the implications for the future of these practices.

In order to fully grasp the exact mechanisms at work, this note will first offer a brief pharmacological description of the lethal medications and detail many technical aspects of their use. The next section provides a historical account of the past decade, illustrating the emergent quality, safety, and access issues. This note then evaluates the competing notions of ‘botched’ executions and ‘complications’ in PAS while analysing the standards set forward to measure safety and efficacy for each. Finally, this note closes by exploring the future of each practice in light of our discussion.


Riley S. Navigating the new era of assisted suicide and execution drugs. Journal of Law and the Biosciences. Volume 4, Issue 2, 1 August 2017, Pages 424–434, https://doi.org/10.1093/jlb/lsx028

There is no defence for ‘Conscientious objection’ in reproductive health care

Abstract

A widespread assumption has taken hold in the field of medicine that we must allow health care professionals the right to refuse treatment under the guise of ‘conscientious objection’ (CO), in particular for women seeking abortions. At the same time, it is widely recognized that the refusal to treat creates harm and barriers for patients receiving reproductive health care. In response, many recommendations have been put forward as solutions to limit those harms. Further, some researchers make a distinction between true CO and ‘obstructionist CO’, based on the motivations or actions of various objectors. This paper argues that ‘CO’ in reproductive health care should not be considered a right, but an unethical refusal to treat. Supporters of CO have no real defence of their stance, other than the mistaken assumption that CO in reproductive health care is the same as CO in the military, when the two have nothing in common (for example, objecting doctors are rarely disciplined, while the patient pays the price). Refusals to treat are based on non-verifiable personal beliefs, usually religious beliefs, but introducing religion into medicine undermines best practices that depend on scientific evidence and medical ethics. CO therefore represents an abandonment of professional obligations to patients. Countries should strive to reduce the number of objectors in reproductive health care as much as possible until CO can feasibly be prohibited. Several Scandinavian countries already have a successful ban on CO.

Fiala C, Arthur JH. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2017 Jul 23. pii: S0301-2115(17)30357-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2017.07.023. [Epub ahead of print]

 

Conscientious Objection in Health Care

Letter

Stahl and Emanuel (April 6 issue)1 rightly differentiate between conscripts and physicians. Nonetheless, they state, “the profession . . . uses reflective equilibrium to self-correct. This dynamic process establishes professional obligations . . . regardless of . . . personal beliefs.”1 This point fails to recognize that conscientious objectors are engaging in the dynamic process from within the profession to counter problematic professional obligations and to correct mistakes. . . [Full text]

Liao L,Goligher E.  Conscientious Objection in Health Care, N Engl J Med 2017; 377:96-98 July 6, 2017 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1706233

Medical Assistance in Dying — Implementing a Hospital-Based Program in Canada

Abstract
After Canada legalized medical assistance in dying (MAiD), the University Health Network in Toronto implemented a hospital-based MAiD program. UHN offers a framework for assessing patients for and providing MAiD while respecting the rights of patients and staff.

 


Madeline Li, M.D., Ph.D., Sarah Watt, Marnie Escaf, H.B.B.A., M.H.A., Michael Gardam, M.D., Ann Heesters, M.A., Gerald O’Leary, M.B., and Gary Rodin, M.D. Medical Assistance in Dying — Implementing a Hospital-Based Program in Canada. N Engl J Med 2017; 376:2082-2088 May 25, 2017 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMms1700606

Professional and conscience-based refusals: the case of the psychiatrist’s harmful prescription

Morten Magelssen

Abstract

By way of a case story, two common presuppositions in the academic debate on conscientious objection in healthcare are challenged. First, the debate typically presupposes a sharp division between conscience-based refusals based on personal core moral beliefs and refusals based on professional (eg, medical) reasons. Only the former might involve the moral gravity to warrant accommodation. The case story challenges this division, and it is argued that just as much might sometimes be at stake morally in refusals based on professional reasons. The objector’s moral integrity might be equally threatened in objections based on professional reasons as in objections based on personal beliefs. Second, the literature on conscientious objection typically presupposes that conflicts of conscience pertain to well-circumscribed and typical situations which can be identified as controversial without attention to individualising features of the concrete situation. However, the case shows that conflicts of conscience can sometimes be more particular, born from concrete features of the actual situation, and difficult, if not impossible, to predict before they arise. Guidelines should be updated to address such ‘situation-based’ conscientious refusals explicitly.


Magelssen M. Professional and conscience-based refusals: the case of the psychiatrist’s harmful prescription.  Journal of Medical Ethics Published Online First: 24 April 2017. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2017-104162

Physicians, Not Conscripts — Conscientious Objection in Health Care

Ronit Y. Stahl, Ezekiel J. Emanuel

Conscientious objection laws give health care professionals the legal right to refuse, on the basis of personal beliefs, to perform certain procedures or care for particular patients. The authors argue that professional societies should declare conscientious objection unethical.

 

 


Stahl RY, Emanuel EJ.  Physicians, Not Conscripts – Conscientious Objection in Health Care. N Engl J Med 2017; 376:1380-1385 April 6, 2017 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsb1612472

 

 

Abortion decriminalisation and statutory rights of conscience

BMJ Opinion

Mary Neal

On 13 March 2017, the House of Commons voted by 172 to 142 in favour of a second reading for the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill. The bill, introduced by Diana Johnson MP, would decriminalise abortion until the end of the 24th week of pregnancy, meaning that abortion could be performed until the end of the 24th week of pregnancy without the need to satisfy any statutory grounds, or to obtain two doctors’ authorisation. Many campaigners see this bill as a first step toward the longer-term goal of fully decriminalising abortion. [1]

The prospect of decriminalisation raises a number of interesting and important issues, including an issue which has been neglected in the debates over decriminalisation so far, namely what any change in the law might mean for the right of health professionals to withdraw from participation in abortion on grounds of conscience, under section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967. . . .[Full text]